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  • Chris McMillan

Blind people in China struggle with more than just their disability

The Economist


13th July 2013


Feeling their way


Blind people in China struggle with more than just their disability


AS MILLIONS of Chinese high-school students took their university-entrance exams on June 7th, the education ministry received a freedom-of-information request. It asked how many blind students had sat the exam, known as the gaokao, since 2008. In that year a legal change required papers to be offered to the sightless in Braille or with aural help through a computer. Why, the request’s eight blind submitters wanted to know, was the law being ignored?


China has 17m visually impaired people, including 6m who are completely blind. Few receive a basic education, let alone make it to university. There are just 22 schools for the blind, with a total of 1,500 pupils. The government regards massage as the default vocation for the blind. Some 17,000 were trained for the profession last year. Out of China’s 2,000 universities, only three admit blind students. All of them are in Shanghai.


For blind people in China, as elsewhere, Braille is the key to literacy. But the peculiarities of the language make it even more difficult for Chinese people to use. Chinese has tens of thousands of characters. Their monosyllabic pronunciations can be rendered in Roman letters using a system called pinyin.


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